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Horror-thriller transforms the dark into an emotionally gripping place

Evelyn (Emily Blunt) quiets her daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds)

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Families in peril tap into our most primal protective natures. We are far more likely to be drawn into the survival dynamic on display between a tight-knit nuclear unit than all of the spatial hopping action heroics on display in a would-be franchise project about disparate super-folks trying to save the world. Who gives a care about the so-called world when young children and cute family pets have a razor-thin chance of escaping the gaping maw of some ferocious alien beastie?

“A Quiet Place,” the new horror-thriller from multi-hyphenate John Krasinski (working overtime here as director, co-writer, co-star and husband of his lead actress Emily Blunt) operates in this zone, but the movie ups the ante by dropping us into the middle of a premise that demands a high-level of intellectual surrender. We’re asked to consider that the Abbotts (Krasinski and Blunt along with Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe as their kids) have been able to survive in isolation in the face of an all-out assault by aliens that hunt exclusively by sounds. There’s no time to ask how the creatures arrived on our planet, took out military forces around the globe, or how the Abbotts learned the necessary skills to stay one step ahead of the aliens. Nike, in their promotional efforts command us to “Just do it,” and Krasinski co-opts that tagline, adapting it slightly to “Just go along with it.”

And we do because there’s a lot of smart filmmaking on display and a healthy degree of emotional intelligence in the mix.

The notion of quiet would seem somewhat antithetical to filmmaking because we’ve become dependent on surround sound design engineering. Sound and light engage in a frenzied race to overtake and overwhelm us, but Krasinski wisely strips all of this away, returning to a more simplistic state. From the time we enter his world, we’re forced to consider the natural soundscape—the breeze that carries scraps of trash down nearly abandoned streets, the light scurrying of woodland animals or the panicked flight of birds. We watch the Abbotts wander around barefoot, having gone back to our primal roots, before shoes, even customized athletic wear and pause to consider how quaint it all seems.

What a brand-new world the Abbott kids live in. Yet underneath, there’s a need for constant vigilance, no toys with battery-powered effects, no accidental miscues where you knock items off shelves or stub your toe. You can’t roll the dice on the Monopoly board because any sound triggers the hyper-alert aliens.

The rules of life in this place seep from the screen into the theater. Audiences will succumb to the same instinctual urges. Without thinking, it is easy to discover that you are holding your breath, resisting bodily habits like tapping your feet or moving restlessly in your seat, out of fear that such motions will lead to squeaks and squeals from old springs.

The surprising thing is that the movie is far from silent. It is full of noise, except when the perspective shifts to Regan, the daughter played by Simmonds, who happens to be deaf. When Krasinski puts us in her headspace, we come to realize the oppressiveness of the quiet, but if we take a moment, we recognize how this is merely her everyday reality. It doesn’t occur enough, for my taste, which is a shame, because Regan, as a character, is supposed to be an anchor for the audience. She serves as a vital counterpoint to the aliens who, remember, are blind and guided by sound alone.

Regan also highlights the tension in the family unit. She blames herself for an early accident that had a profound impact on the family and believes her parents do so as well. That no one speaks of the tragedy is a fascinating and quite obvious element that haunts the narrative.

The movie falters, in terms of practical logic though, when it introduces the idea of the Abbotts procreating. So often, under far more ordinary circumstances, we hear couples talk about their fears of bringing children into the world, a place so full of seemingly insurmountable problems, but really, what’s more impossible than attempting to give birth and raise a child in a world where sound can lead to immediate death?

Watching from the safety of my quiet place in the audience, I wanted to rail about these lapses in logic, but Krasinski deftly refuses to give you enough time to do so. Instead, he dares us to focus on the Abbotts as a family doing the best they can to remain as human as possible under conditions that would seem to be constructed to strip away any trace of humanity.

What happens on the screen isn’t as important as what goes on in the hearts, minds, and ears of those of us who surrender to the powerful allure of this not so quiet place. Listen to the lesson.

Rating: PG-13; Grade: A-